ANY show starring Sue Hodge is going to be a riot of laughter and fun — but her next one will be tinged with a bit of sadness, too.
It is just seven short months since her ’Allo ’Allo co-star and close friend Gorden Kaye passed away, and nobody feels his loss more than Sue.
As she reveals, she was with him as his long battle with dementia saw him suffer, holding his hand and talking to him in the care home where he spent his last days.
And as Sue also explains, we lost much more than a British TV favourite when the man who played Rene Artois died on January 23, aged 75.
“Gorden was very shy and private, not what people expected, because he came across as larger than life,” Sue admits.
“He was quite inhibited, really, behind the scenes.
“The two of us were very, very close, and you could say I was a very good confidante for him. With others, he was so shy, people might think: ‘Oh, he wasn’t very jovial,’ but he just wasn’t terribly good in public.
“We just clicked immediately, as soon as we met. I went up to do the first big press thing for the show, and they said to Gorden: ‘Can we have a photo of you running off with the new waitress? Can you pick her up?’
“I had my arm around his neck, and Gorden said: ‘Well, get your head round to the front or they won’t see your face!’
“I said: ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter, does it?’ to which Gorden replied: ‘We are going to go a long way!’
“We spent a lot of time together when we took the show to New Zealand. We were out there for 10 weeks, so off scene, we were together, too. We had a good rapport.
“I knew he was going to go, because I saw the steady decline over the past five years, but even then it still devastates you when it finally happens.
“He still recognised me, but there were some odd phone calls and I knew we were going downhill.
“He got a bit confused, forgot we’d already had conversations. Gorden got frustrated.
“I lost my mother to dementia, so I’d been used to it at home.”
Their success together with ’Allo ’Allo certainly gave Gorden and Sue — who played diminutive waitress Mimi Labonq — plenty of happy memories.
Running to nine series, 85 episodes, and leading to stage show hits, too, ’Allo ’Allo was shown in many countries around the globe and has massive followings to this day in places such as Poland, Bulgaria and, yes, even Germany and France!
“I had my book coming out, and they did a competition to win it,” Sue recalls.
“A Polish guy won it, and I couldn’t believe his reaction.
“When I asked him his name, he couldn’t remember for a minute!
“He kept saying: ‘I am so shocked, I am so shocked! We have an ’Allo ’Allo Fan Club in Poland, I was the founding member, and they will not believe this, it is the most exciting thing that has happened in my life!’
“Oddly enough, the younger generation of Germans love it.
“We couldn’t believe when they sold it to Germany, and I remember David Croft, one of the genius writers, saying it was mission accomplished when that happened.
“We have moved on a bit, which you have to. It was a long time ago, the war, but I’m sure there are still people who perhaps will never quite see the humour in it.
“In saying that, I know someone in France whose mother did what Mimi did during the war, and she said: ‘Those were not Germans, they were just thugs.’”
For an actress who took the Mimi role and wasn’t sure how long it would last, Sue later found herself with devoted fans in every corner of the globe.
As she reveals, unexpected places idolise her to a Beatlemania-style degree!
“I agreed to become part of Bulgaria’s ’Allo ’Allo culture a couple of years back,” she explains.
“The lady told us it would be like The Beatles had arrived, and she was right. It was a stampede, I’ve never seen anything like it. We went in the back entrance of this place, then it seemed like we were underground, and came out into this arena.
“When they saw us, they went ballistic. The place was shaking and I’ve never heard anything like it. I thought the place would collapse. Your adrenaline shoots up.
“Trouble was, nobody had thought how we would get back out afterwards. The interpreters just left us there, we got mobbed, and I remember crawling into some back office with Kim Hartman!”
Proof, if it were needed, that classic British comedy can be a huge hit in the most unlikely of places.
Sue’s book ’Allo ’Allo is out now.